In the Yukon, a garbage bear is a dead bear.
But one dumpster diver might have dodged death, if not the bullet.
On Friday morning, conservation officers received a call about a bear frequenting a dumpster near Yukon College residences.
Spotted the night before, it had returned last Friday.
When the lone conservation officer arrived at about 1 a.m., some students were throwing trash in the dumpster.
He warned them about the bear and asked them to leave.
Seconds later it showed up.
“He was determined to put the bear down then and there,” said Environment spokesman Dennis Senger on Thursday.
“Because it was a garbage bear and once it had discovered a food source it was going to keep returning.”
It was dark, and the conservation officer couldn’t tell if it was a black or a grizzly, said Senger.
Nevertheless, he fired at the animal.
It ran into the woods.
The officer found blood on the ground near the dumpster.
“But it was around two in the morning,” said Senger. “And he couldn’t track the bear into the woods in the dark.”
The next morning a crew of conservation officers tried to track the wounded bear.
But it had rained overnight.
“We were able to track the trail of blood 75 to 100 yards into the woods, but then all signs of the bear vanished,” said conservation’s enforcement and compliance manager Tony Grabowski.
The officers continued a fruitless search for the bear throughout the week.
“Some members of the public are going to question why this took place,” said Grabowski.
“Because they don’t understand the problems faced with trying to relocate an animal at this time of year.”
When an animal is relocated its chance of survival is extremely low, he said.
In this case the bear’s den was probably nearby.
“So to move it hundreds of miles away, to a territory it doesn’t know — it will likely spend all its waking hours trying to get back to its original site,” said Grabowski.
“It’s a really tough situation and we, as public servants, sit on a double-edged sword.”
Shoot the bear, and people will challenge the decision.
“But then if we don’t shoot the bear and a student is mauled or killed taking garbage to the dumpster, then there’s going to be people crying foul — ‘Why didn’t you people do something about that problem, garbage bear?’
“And I’d rather have members of the public complain about the bear being shot, than have members of the public complain that we did nothing and a human life was lost because of it.”
The whole affair would have been avoided if the college supplied proper dumpsters, rather than the flimsy plastic container the bear had found.
All dumpsters adjacent to greenbelts should be bear proof, under the Wildlife Act, said Grabowski.
The college’s dumpster wasn’t.
“Those dumpsters should be bear proof, so a bear comes to them, can’t get in and then goes off doing what bears do somewhere else,” he said.
The college could be charged under the wildlife act, but Environment prefers to prompt change through education, said Grabowski.
“Yukon College is taking this seriously,” he said.
“And my hope is that they do the right thing.”
The signs warning about the wounded bear were taken down Friday morning, a week after the incident occurred.
It has been 10 years since conservation officers shot and wounded a garbage bear, rather than killing it outright.
The last occurrence was in Ross River.